Boise Sports Park developer Chris Schoen is now hashing out the financing details for a public-private partnership to build a 5,500-seat baseball/soccer stadium and apartments, office and retail at Americana Boulevard and Shoreline Drive.
The due diligence and feasibility period ended at the Sept. 26 Boise City Council. The financing phase will happen this fall, and the entitlement and permitting phase is expected to start in winter.
Schoen wants to start construction in fall 2018 and have the $36 million stadium ready for the Boise Hawks and a USL professional soccer team in 2020.
The city council hosted a 2-1/2- hour stadium presentation Sept. 26.
“I think we’re on a good path here,” City Councilmember Maryanne Jordan said.
City Council President Elaine Clegg asked city staff to assemble a legal and financial framework for a proposed partnership between Boise and Atlanta-based Greenstone Properties, where Schoen is managing partner. Schoen is also managing partner at the Atlanta-based Agon Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Boise Hawks.
Firm approvals have urgency for Schoen, for whom a million-dollar-plus deposit is due before Nov. 7 to secure a USL soccer team for Boise. USL is one rung below Major League Soccer, the top U.S. soccer league.
Schoen is under contract to buy 11.06 acres from St. Luke’s Health System, including a former Kmart being used as St. Luke’s Business Center and property across Americana and Shoreline.
Schoen said a sales price has not been determined and the sale likely will not close until just before groundbreaking.
No commitments have been made regarding the stadium.
“We believe it is real enough now to go forward with the public process and look into the weeds of the proposed financing,” Mayor David Bieter said.
Financing will likely involve a bond issued by the Capital City Development Corp. with CCDC owning the stadium until the bond is paid off. A similar arrangement is in place with the Boise Centre East expansion.
Before any formal submittals have been made regarding a potential downtown Boise baseball and soccer stadium, a local group has raised questions about a stadium’s impact on the Americana Boulevard/Shoreline Drive area.
Concerned Boise Taxpayers on July 16 submitted a letter to the Greater Boise Auditorium District asking the district to require an in-depth analysis of a stadium’s traffic, noise, lighting, environmental and true economic impact on property value. The letter was signed by former Albertsons Chairman and CEO Gary G. Michael.
“Concerned Boise Taxpayers… respectfully request that more solid information be provided to the taxpaying citizens of Boise before any money is paid for the acquisition of any land in a public/private partnership for a baseball multi-use field,” Michael wrote.
GBAD officials said it was premature to address the matter as Greenstone Properties, which is proposing the stadium, has not made a formal presentation to GBAD.
“We have not been asked to consider a project yet,” GBAD Board Chairman Jim Walker said. “There’s nothing on the table for us to discuss.”
A downtown stadium will involve approvals from the city of Boise, the Capital City Development Corp., and likely GBAD.
GBAD Executive Director Pat Rice said Concerned Boise Taxpayers had asked GBAD to help pay for the study.
“I’m not sure that’s our role in this,” he said.
GBAD owns and operates the Boise Centre. The district, which can incur debt, is authorized to build, operate, maintain, market, and manage public auditoriums, exhibit halls, convention centers, sports arenas and similar facilities.
Greenstone is still negotiating with St. Luke’s Health System to acquire 11 acres at American and Shoreline. The property includes St. Luke’s Business Center, which is located in a former Kmart, the Shoreline Center property across Shoreline Drive and the former Beehive Salon and Total Woman Fitness properties across Spa Street. Chris Schoen, managing principal of Greenstone, has said he wants to start construction in late spring 2018 on a 5,000-fixed-seat stadium expandable to 7,000 seats for soccer. Games would start in 2020.
Schoen is also co-owner of the Boise Hawks minor league baseball team, which would be a tenant of the new stadium.
Concerned Boise Taxpayers has not sent similar letters to the city or CCDC. City and CCDC officials said the groups’ concerns are within the entitlement process to allow the stadium project to proceed.
“All those things that they are concerned about are things that are going to be part of this process,” said Mike Journee, spokesman for Mayor David Bieter. “As part of the due diligence by the development partners, all those questions are going to be answered for people.”
CCDC is in the early stages of creating a new urban renewal district – the Shoreline District – that would include the stadium and surrounding commercial, office and residential development that Greenstone proposes.
“We have not begun the master plan for the new urban renewal district,” CCDC Executive Director John Brunelle said. “That’s when all of those things will be addressed. Those are all great questions. Those are questions that need to be answered in the master planning process for the new district.”
A downtown Boise baseball/soccer stadium could start construction in 12 to 14 months with games starting in 2000, the stadium developer said May 18.
The owners of the Boise Hawks minor league baseball stadium are negotiating the purchase of 11 acres at American Boulevard and Shoreline Drive from St. Luke’s Health System to build a 5,500 fixed-seat stadium along with retail, office and residential.
“The goal would be to be in a position to break ground in 12 to 14 months,” said Chris Schoen, managing principal of Greenstone Properties, an Atlanta development firm, at the Downtown Boise Association’s State of Downtown meeting. “That would put us in a position to be open for the 2020 soccer season and baseball would follow.”
Schoen also is a partner at Agon Sports and Entertainment, the Georgia-based owners of the Boise Hawks.
Schoen and Agon partner Jeff Eisenman propose a stadium that would suit both soccer and baseball.
Three months ago, Greenstone broke ground on a similar stadium/mixed-use development in Augusta, Ga., where Agon owns the Augusta GreenJackets minor league baseball team.
Schoen said the company hopes up to 300,000 people will attend soccer and baseball games in the Boise stadium. Schoen said the stadium would also host events such as 10K runs and Easter egg hunts.
“The hope is to have 100-plus special events a year,” he said, adding that could bring 100,000 to 200,000 people to the stadium over the course of a year. “What you have is 500,000 to 800,000 people a year coming to this one spot.”
St. Luke’s Health System has agreed to sell 11 acres of land at Americana Boulevard and Shoreline Drive to the owners of the Boise Hawks minor league baseball to build a downtown stadium for the Hawks and a professional soccer team.
St. Luke’s, Agon Sports and Entertainment, Greenstone Properties and the city of Boise jointly announced the deal March 27.
The acreage includes the former Kmart property that now houses the St. Luke’s Business Center and includes all the land bounded by Americana, Shoreline, Spa Street and 14th Street along with the Shoreline Center property across Shoreline Drive and the former Beehive Salon and Total Woman Fitness properties across Spa.
St. Luke’s is making an effort to move its employees closer to its main downtown hospital, and would move its business center workers to the Washington Group Plaza. St. Luke’s is in a sales and purchase agreement to acquire Washington Group Plaza, with the sale scheduled to close in April 2018, but the closing could be earlier, said Anita Kissée, a St. Luke’s spokeswoman.
A sales date for the Americana/Shoreline property is unknown. The assessed values of the combined 10.94 acres of St. Luke’s properties is $14.2 million, according to Ada County Assessor records. “Next is negotiating the details of the agreement,” Kissée said.
Agon Sports, which owns the Boise Hawks, and Greenstone Properties, also owned by an Agon partner, wants to build a 5,000-fixed-seat stadium for the Hawks for $40 million to $45 million. With bleachers on the field, capacity could be expanded to 7,500 for soccer, said Jeff Eiseman, president of Agon Sports.
The United Soccer League has told the Idaho Business Review it has keen interest to have a team in Boise. The USL is a second level professional league directly below Major League Soccer.
“We would like to open a stadium in February 2019,” Eiseman said in an interview. “Working backwards, we would have to start construction in the next six to 10 months.”
The stadium would be part of a larger, $200-million mixed-use development proposed by Agon Sports and Greenstone with commercial, office and residential.
The Boise Hawks owners are not building a baseball stadium. They want a stadium that is optimal for baseball and soccer. They brought on Tad Shultz, president of Boston-based International Stadia Design, to design the Boise stadium. Shultz also designed the stadium now under construction for the other minor league baseball team that Agon Sports owns, the Augusta GreenJackets in Augusta, Ga.
“When the stadium is used for soccer, the left field wall pads are removed to expose an open-air Club Lounge at field elevation,” Shultz said in a news release. “It will be filled with passionate fans as players pass through on their exit from the locker room to the pitch.”
Along with finalizing the sale with St. Luke’s, Agon Sports still needs to work out agreements with the city of Boise, the Capital City Development Corp. and the Greater Boise Auditorium District before construction moves forward.
“There are still some milestones to achieve on the way,” Eiseman said. “The next milestones are with the three government entities.”
Agon Sports likely will seek $41 million in stadium bonds from CCDC, which has the authority to issue bonds backed by tax increments generated by new tax revenues.
CCDC has already done preliminary work to create a new urban renewal district in the area that could be in place by 2018, said John Brunelle, CCDC’s executive director. CCDC would be the bond issuers with tax increment gains generated by Greenstone, Brunelle said in an interview. “They would need to create the value to generate tax revenue.”
CCDC would issue a 20-year bond, during which time CCDC would own the stadium, just as CCDC owned the Ada County Courthouse until that bond was paid off in 2016 and CCDC now owns Boise Centre East. Both projects were built with CCDC bonds.
CCDC is the city’s urban renewal agency.
“What’s nice about working with sports-oriented developers is they take the fan experience into account,” Brunelle said. “Public event venues have been proven to be beneficial in an urban setting. They have to be done in a certain way. They need to be active as many nights as possible.”
The Boise Hawks season runs June to Labor Day and the USL soccer season is March to October. Concerts and other family events will also be scheduled, Eiseman said.
GBAD Executive Director Pat Rice said the district can “participate” in the stadium. GBAD owns and operates the Boise Centre.
“Nobody has said exactly this is what we want from the district,” Rice said. “Can we participate with cash? Maybe. There’s certainly been a suggestion of cash. Maybe we run the concessions. Do we help operate it? There’s a lot of generalities out there.”
Boise City Council member Scot Ludwig acted as a middle man during the negotiations among the parties.
“The Boise Hawks, Greenstone Properties, and St. Luke’s Health System have stepped-up in their own respective and important way to make this multi-use Stadium closer to reality,” Ludwig said in a news release.” Now it is time for the city of Boise, CCDC, and GBAD to do the same in keeping with our commitment to preserve and enhance the quality of life Boisean’s cherish as we grow and seek new economic development opportunities.”
Boise Mayor David Bieter has long sought a downtown stadium.
“This public space has the potential to be an epicenter for athletics, festivals and community events all our residents can enjoy and celebrate,” Bieter said in a news release. “With retail, restaurants and office space, this multi-use urban stadium and surrounding development will be the cornerstone of our growing River Street neighborhood in Downtown.”
Baseball and soccer will be equals at downtown Boise stadium
The Boise Hawks envision building a stadium equally for two sports. On baseball nights, it will feel like a baseball stadium. On soccer nights, the hallmarks of a soccer stadium will be in place – not the common dynamic of a soccer stadium shoehorned onto a baseball field.
Agon Sports and Entertainment and Greenstone Development brought on Tad Shultz, president of International Stadia Design, to create a home field for soccer and baseball.
“The home plate entrance is designed as a new Boise piazza,” Shultz said in a news release. “It’s a living room for the city to hold concerts, events, and festivals.
“When the stadium is used for soccer,” he continued, “the left field wall pads are removed to expose an open-air Club Lounge at field elevation. It will be filled with passionate fans as players pass through on their exit from the locker room to the pitch, directly on axis with the Hawks Nest tower across the park.
The Hawks Nest is beyond the right field fence for baseball and aligned directly for soccer.
“The 14th Street elevation of the ballpark is the Hawk’s Nest, anchored by the central, multi-level tower and dynamic “nest” structure,” Shultz said. “It is centered in the soccer pitch. An open viewing terrace runs from the nest down the first base line and is conceived as flex space.”
The owners of the Boise Hawks minor league baseball team expect to add a second-tier men’s professional soccer team to their portfolio, and to have both teams play in a 5,000- to 7,500-seat stadium they propose to build in downtown Boise.
Atlanta-based Agon Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Hawks, anticipates announcing soon that it will acquire the former Kmart building at Americana Boulevard and Shoreline Road that is now occupied by the St. Luke’s Business Center, said Jeff Eiseman, Agon’s president and partner.
Eiseman is trying to assemble a 15- to 20-acre checkerboard of properties in the area generally bounded by Americana Boulevard, Shoreline Drive, Spa Street and 14th Street. Eiseman envisions a mixed-use development with office, retail and residential, all anchored by the stadium.
The St. Luke’s Health System-owned Kmart building amounts to 6.44 acres with a 93,940-square-foot building constructed in 1966. The property is assessed at $10.48 million, according to Ada County Assessor records.
Eiseman believes he is near to acquiring the St. Luke’s property, while St. Luke’s refers only to a Feb. 10 prepared statement that acknowledges a desire to consolidate employees at the downtown Boise medical center but does not specifically address selling the Americana property to Agon Sports.
“St. Luke’s is considering vacating Shoreline and bringing those employees closer to our flagship downtown Boise hospital,” according to the St. Luke’s statement. “St. Luke’s has been negotiating appropriately with multiple developers and parties to reach the best agreement.”
Eiseman and partner Chris Schoen acquired the Boise Hawks in 2014. This year, United Soccer, or USL, moved up from the third to the second tier league alongside the North American Soccer League. Both leagues are just below Major League Soccer, the premier U.S. pro soccer league. Ten of the 30 USL teams are owned and operated by MLS teams, and the Portland Timbers MLS franchise last year directly stated interest in involvement with a Boise team. Another 12 independently owned USL teams have looser affiliations with MLS teams.
“I’m bullishly optimistic (about soccer),” Eiseman said. “I believe this will be very successful. In some ways, this may outstage the Hawks, which does not concern me in the least.”
Attendance at MLS matches has soared in recent years, especially in the Pacific Northwest, with league attendance doubling to 7.3 million since 2009. Lower-level pro and professional development leagues also are flourishing with dozens more teams added each year (see accompanying story about new Boise FC amateur team).
The Boise Hawks season is limited from the second half of June to early September, while USL soccer plays from March to October to extend the active season at the stadium.
Eiseman proposes a stadium with 5,000 fixed seats for baseball and the option to add grandstands and concessions on the field to increase soccer seating to 7,500. Instead of shoehorning a rectangular soccer field onto a fan-shaped baseball field, Eiseman seeks to design a stadium that caters to both sports.
He’s thinking of having more seats on the third-base side to provide more seats when that section serves as one side of a soccer grandstand. He’s also looking at creating soccer supporter areas, which traditionally are behind the goals, or in the left field corner and behind the first base dugout in a baseball stadium.
“We’re reverse-engineering, looking at optimal sight lines for both sports so it’s not just fitting a soccer field on a baseball field,” Eiseman said.
The concept pleases USL President Jake Edwards, who is strongly suggesting that teams wanting to join the league consider building soccer-specific stadiums, which have become common in the 2010s higher-level soccer leagues.
“What we’ve told them is you’ve got to build a stadium that is a true environment for that sport as it it’s playing,” said Edwards about accommodating soccer, baseball and concerts, “(Agon) presented a design able to achieve those three goals.”
A USL team in Boise would enter a league with much higher standards than when the Agon Sports official first started chatting with USL in 2014, or when Idaho Youth Soccer started lobbying for a USL team in 2015. Back then, USL was a Division 3 league.
On Jan. 1, USL was promoted to Division 2, alongside the eight-team North American Soccer League, both of which now directly feed players to Major League Soccer. Boise definitely would be a small-market team in a league where many teams are named for and play in the same cities as their MLS counterparts, such as Seattle, Portland, Ore., New York, and Kansas City. But other USL teams play in the much smaller cities of Reno, Nev., Bethlehem, Penn., Tulsa, Okla., Harrisburg, Penn. and Rochester, N.Y.
“There is a spotlight on the league and players that we have never had before,” Edwards said. “We are raising the stakes for teams every year. We are improving the overall quality of the competition and the professionalism of every club and its facilities.”
And United States Soccer Federation is raising the stakes on USL at its new Division 2 level, mandating that stadiums seat at least 5,000 people. Edwards already sees attendance trending toward 7,000 to 10,000 with USL’s top five teams averaging 9,000 people per game.
“For Boise coming into the league now, there are some new standards that have changed,” Edwards said.
Agon Sports embraces the higher standards, eyeballing $40 million to $45 million to build the stadium and $100-million-plus for the entire mixed-use stadium complex on Boise’s West End. Agon is now building a similar $170 million mixed-use stadium project in August, Ga., for the August GreenJackets, the other minor league baseball team that Agon owns.
Eiseman’s business partner at Agon, Chris Schoen, heads up Greenstone Properties, the development company for the Augusta and Boise projects.
“We haven’t targeted any (retail or restaurant) franchises,” Eiseman said about the Boise stadium project. “We’re not talking about putting McDonald’s down there. A hotel is not in our plan.”
Right now, USL and potential tenants are waiting for Agon Sports to assemble property.
“It’s a chicken-and-egg component,” Eiseman said.
Two high-profile pro soccer matches in 2015, 2016 put Boise on the map
Two professional soccer matches that were played in the Treasure Valley in 2015 and 2016 directly influenced the scenario now.
The United Soccer League is waiting for a firm commitment in Boise to build a stadium before awarding Boise a team. The next step up for players would be Major League Soccer.
The July 18, 2015 Basque Soccer Friendly match between Athletic Bilbao and Club Tijuana at Albertsons Stadium at Boise State University was the first international soccer club match played in Idaho. A year later, the June 4 USL match between the Portland Timbers T2 and Swope City (Kansas City) Rangers at Rocky Mountain High School in Meridian was the first professional American soccer match in Idaho. It was also the first time USL played a regular season match at a neutral site.
Besides the firsts, decision makers in the soccer world saw the public clamoring for soccer, especially at the Portland Timbers T2 game, where fans lined the fences behind the goals because the Rocky Mountain High bleachers sold out, even with next to no marketing.
“It’s clear there is something special there,” said USL President Jake Edwards, who traveled from league headquarters in Florida to Meridian for the game.
Agon Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Boise Hawks baseball team, had already quietly been in talks with USL business development staff since 2014, right at the time the Atlanta-based company acquired the Hawks.
“If that (USL game) gets 4,000 people to a high school field with two teams with no local ties to the Treasure Valley and they can’t even serve beer – wow!,” Agon President and Partner Jeff Eiseman said. “Before they even did the Basque soccer event, we were already looking at the USL. When they did the soccer friendly (the Basque match), that caught our group’s attention.”
Portland and Seattle are Major League Soccer cities that pioneered European-style, boisterous soccer passion in the U.S.
“Soccer is like a counter-culture movement in the Northwest,” Eiseman said.
Late last year, Agon Sports submitted an application, a business plan and a stadium plan to USL to bring a team to Boise. USL evaluated the plans.
“We feel very good about those components,” Edwards said. “We like the ownership group. Agon is an impressive group.”
One of the faces behind the push for professional soccer
Bill Taylor, a Boise neuroradiologist, has been the public face of bringing professional soccer to Boise as president of the Idaho Youth Soccer Association.
Taylor has been talking to USL for a couple of years, and when the city of Boise and the Basque community were negotiating to bring the Basque Athletic Club from Spain’s top soccer league to Boise, they turned to Taylor to find an opponent.
“The goal is to have a team here by 2019,” Taylor said. “To do that you need to have a stadium under construction by January.”
Taylor said he started with trying to get the Seattle Sounders, Real Salt Lake or Portland Timbers, adding that the Major League Soccer season conflicted with a July visit to Boise.
He then looked at the Mexican League and brought Club Tijuana to Boise, drawing 22,000 to Albertsons Stadium at Boise State University.
“That woke everybody up,” Taylor said. “The next year I approached (Portland Timbers General Manager) Gavin Wilkinson and told him what we need for a greater plan, we need a USL game. We put a real product down and had real results and people paid $20 for a ticket. That convinced the Hawks.”
Boise FC takes the field in national amateur soccer league
As Boise awaits a potential downtown stadium and a higher-level pro soccer team, soccer fans in the know can start taking in Boise’s first national soccer league team.
Boise FC Cutthroats plays its first home game April 1 at 5 p.m. against Real San Jose from California at the Boise State University Lincoln Recreational Field near the Lincoln Avenue Garage and Student Union. The team is scheduled to play 16 home games into December.
Boise FC joins Magic Valley FC in Twin Falls, which played its first season last year in the United Premier Soccer League, an amateur league with 70 teams that competes in eight states. The league has seven conferences, with each conference designed so teams are relatively close to each other, UPSL Commissioner Yan Skwara said.
Boise FC and Magic Valley FC, for now, are in the Northwest Conference composed of northern California and Reno teams, but Skwara is aiming to create a new conference with Idaho, northern Utah and possibly Oregon and Washington.
With a first-year budget of about $60,000, the team is bankrolled by its president and co-founder Hector Palacios, owner of Ultimate Linings of Idaho, a Boise auto accessory retailer.
Boise FC’s co-founders are Alyssa Buffi, Hector Coronado, Emmett Demirelli, Hector Palacios and Emerson Peredo, who is also the team coach.
Boise FC evolved from a local traveling soccer team that Palacios established about three years ago and took to places like Seattle and the World Soccer 5s tournament in Las Vegas. About 80 percent of Boise FC’s roster is students from Northwest Nazarene University, College of Idaho and Treasure Valley Community College, Palacios said.
“We just got to a point where everybody was saying, ‘We wish we were in a league playing all the time,’” Palacios said.
He researched several lower-lever player development soccer leagues and came upon United Premier Soccer League, based in Los Angeles.
“They had teams from anywhere,” said Palacios. “It was so cheap for us to get in.”
UPSL does not charge franchise fees, Skwara said.
“We’re thrilled that Boise FC has extended a hand to the UPSL as it creates a first for the Boise market,” Skwara said. “In turn, we see tremendous potential in Boise FC and very much support their efforts to bring a home-grown product to Idaho.”
Palacios estimates each away game will cost about $2,000 to lease vans and for accommodations. Home games will cost about $500 a game, mostly to rent the field.
UPSL was established in Los Angeles in 2011 with 10 southern California teams to provide a competitive professional development league for players seeking to play at a higher level. The league has 63 active teams in California, Nevada, Arizona, Idaho and Colorado with teams so far announced for 2018 in New York, New Jersey and North Carolina in new Northeast, Southeast and Midwest conferences.
Skwara said UPSL teams typically have a life of about three to five years, as they are all locally funded, and typically operate on annual budgets ranging from $25,000 to $100,000.
“We advise teams to go slow and steady and get your market built,” Skwara said. “On and off the field, (Magic Valley FC in Twin Falls) did very well. We were impressed with their commitment to get to season two.”
In the early years, UPSL recruited teams, but Skwara said he now routinely fields calls from soccer organizers wanting to join the league. He is talking to a couple of teams in northern Utah, and a couple of teams in Oregon are “kicking the tires,” he said.
Jeff Eiseman and Bill Taylor, who are trying to land a second division professional soccer team in Boise, both see a role for Boise FC even as they seek a United Soccer League team for Boise.
“I don’t think it gets in the way,” said Eiseman, president of Agon Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Boise Hawks baseball team and wants to build a downtown stadium for baseball and a United Soccer League team. “There are potential opportunities where we could do things together.”
Taylor, president of Idaho Youth Soccer Association, noted that Boise State University does not have a men’s soccer team. Boise FC could fill that void.
“This would be as close to a college Division I team,” Taylor said. “it’s a lower-level team. It will provide more soccer opportunities for kids. I could dovetail into supporting a USL team.”
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